As the sun beams directly into Michael Satterfield’s brown eyes, he awakes. Disheveled, he reaches for the thin, cotton sheet that fell to the floor during his nights rest and carefully repositions it onto his cold body. Dressed in an old pair of jeans and a dirty flannel shirt, he shivers and blinks continuously until his eyes are fully opened. He rolls over and listens to the soda cans and cardboard McDonald containers that crush underneath him.
The sound of the garbage surrounding him is quickly overtaken by the noise of loud sirens and the early morning shuffle of commuting Baltimoreans on their way to work, traveling rapidly down 695. It is the middle of February and just 11 degrees outside. Michael rises and peers through the foggy window of his 2002 Toyota, the only roof he currently can afford to put over his head. Michael is homeless, but a different kind of homeless that Baltimore usually sees. He chooses to be.
“I guess you can say it’s my choice,” Michael said.
There’s a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Baltimore. Those in charge of social services say it’s having an impact, those, like Michael, who suffer the effects of homelessness everyday, disagree.
Michael, 48, lived with his mother in Baltimore City. When his mother passed away, the house stayed in her name along with her sisters. Michael and his aunt fought constantly, mostly because his aunt did not want any housemates.
“She didn’t want me to live in the house, I’m a man, she was robbing me of my independence and manhood,” Michael said. “So I packed my stuff and left.”
Michael found a home with other family members for a while, that is until he got sick with a diabetes infection.
“The doctors had to amputate my toes and part of my left foot,” Michael said. “After the hospital I was put into a nursing home for a year, but when I got out my Aunt moved other people into the house I once called my home, I had no where to go.”
Michael grew to be stubborn.
“My pride got in the way, I didn’t want any help,” Michael said.
A few offers for help came along the way, but Michael was asked to cut his dread locks in exchange for that assistance, he denied the offers and decided to keep his hair. His pride, his dreads and his car are now the three closest things to his heart.
“I’ve been living in my car for about a year now,” he said. “I travel place to place, but never travel too far.”
Most recently, his furthest trip was to the Baltimore Detention Center, where he was thrown in jail for expired license plates.
According to the Journey Home, a point-in-time count, census, in 2008 showed that on any given night in Baltimore, an average of 2,600 men, women and children were homeless. By 2011 the homeless population swelled nearly 20 percent, and today that number continues to grow.
The Journey Home, Baltimore’s 10-year plan, brings together the public and private sectors, not-for-profits, faith-based organizations and concerned citizens to work on solutions for preventing and ending homelessness.
Adrienne Breidenstine, executive director of the Journey Home, has overseen Baltimore’s homelessness issues since 2008 when the plan was established.
“At the time, Baltimore developed its plan to end homelessness because there was a big push from the federal government, they were encouraging lots of local communities to develop these neighborhood plans for how we were going to end homelessness,” Breidenstine said. “Baltimore sort of jumped on the bandwagon and took initiative.”
The new push from the federal government motivated Baltimore to develop a plan of its own.
“We said, hey, lets try to organize in a strategic way by developing a solid set of goals to end this complex issue – that is one reason Baltimore moved forward with developing a plan in the first place,” Beridenstine said.
Before this, Breidenstine explained how prior to the Journey Home, the community never really came together in any strategic or intentional way to develop a vision or goal for how Baltimore was going to end this ongoing issue.
“Ultimately, we really needed that push from the federal government,” she stated.
According to the plan, the Journey Home focuses on four primary objectives, affordable housing, comprehensive health care, sufficient incomes and comprehensive preventative and emergency services, each with a current issue reflecting that goal and a set solution to be accomplished by 2018.
Breidenstine is hesitant to claim that the plan has made significant progress since 2008.
“It depends on what you describe as progress,” she said. “There are some things within the Journey Home that we have accomplished, within each of the four goals there are different objectives and strategies and yes, there are some strategies that we have already executed.”…
Michael gets out of the back of his car and climbs into the driver’s seat. First order of business is to wash up. He travels down the street to a local rest area, where he washes his body and brushes his teeth. His day can now begin.
Aside from his 2002 Toyota, the public library is home to him. He spends most of his day reading books or surfing the Internet, catching up on the news.
“Some days I’ll go visit my friends or family,” Michael said. “But that rarely happens.”
When Michael gets bored at the public library, he travels place-to-place, the local Laundromat and McDonald’s are a few of his favorite destinations. His disability check that he receives each month pays for essential things, including food, gas and his cell phone bill.
“When my day is over I just go find another place to sleep for that night,” Michael said. “I consider my car my home, that’s the closest thing to shelter I have.”
According to Baltimore’s Housing Choice Voucher Program, formerly known as Section 8, the program ensures that all citizens of Baltimore have access to adequate and affordable housing opportunities in safe, livable and decent neighborhoods. Michael has applied, but the HVCP is aimed toward women and children and also comes with a very long waiting list. He was recently interviewed for disability housing but has not heard back.
“I’ve heard it’s a long process, so for now I’m just waiting,” he said.
When it comes to finding shelter, Baltimore does offer various options, but to Michael, homeless shelters are completely out of the question.
“Most people don’t understand how dirty the people are in places like that,” he said. “Burglaries are also very common in shelters, I can’t take those chances.”
After the library, Michael takes a ride to the local Laundromat where he washes his essentials. He throws in the sheet he uses for warmth at night, along with an old pair of pants, some tattered socks and a pair of boxers. He grabs an old issue of The Baltimore Sun left on the old wooden bench outside the Laundromat and patiently waits for his clothes to wash, greeting a few of his friends as they walk by.
The sun is beginning to set and Michael knows he needs to find a place to spend the night. He drives around for a while, pulling in and out of parking lots until he finds a small parking spot behind an old abandoned brick building, tonight this is his home.
One of the Journey Home’s main focuses is affordable housing. According to the plan, it is estimated that there are about two poor renters for every affordable housing unit in Baltimore City, and more than 16,000 households are on the waiting list for assisted housing.
The plan states that Baltimore will create and maintain a supply of housing sufficient to rapidly re-house homeless individuals and families and meet the needs of those at risk of homelessness. These individuals and families will have access to housing affordable in the least restrictive possible environment and will receive the supportive services necessary to remain stably housed.
Action 1.1 of the Journey Home includes leasing 500 “housing first” units to individuals and families who have experienced homelessness for a long period of time or have multiple barriers to housing.
“Five-hundred housing choice vouchers are all in use right now,” Breidenstine said. “That is a great indicator of progress.”
The Journey Home states, by 2018, all Baltimoreans will have access to compressive and affordable health care including mental health services and addiction treatment. The City Paper states, in 2011, according to Health Care for the Homeless, 75 percent of their clients served in Baltimore in 2009 were uninsured. Only 19 percent received Medicaid and only 6 percent received Medicare.
“The whole health care section really is a big growth of progress and that is largely due to the passing of health reform through The Affordable Care Act,” Breidentstine said. “As of the beginning of this year we think that most people experiencing homelessness in Baltimore are now eligible for Medicaid.”
According to Breidenstine this is a huge step for Baltimore.
“We believe that in the plans outlines, there are many causes to why some people are homeless but health care is a huge part of that. The majority of homeless individuals fall under the lack of affordable comprehensive healthcare and access to specific health services,” Breidenstine said. “Were doing some big pushes there to get people connected with a primary care doctor.”
The director went on to explain that many people experiencing homelessness do have substance abuse and or mental health issues and although Medicaid does not cover some of those services, getting people access to the help they need is a huge step forward to getting them off of the streets.
Although much progress is being made towards affordable housing and health care services, the statistics still stand true. When putting the numbers into perspective, the plan does not show much improvement towards the issue.
“It is a little hard to say if there are more or less homeless people in Baltimore since 2008,” Breidenstine said. “If you look at a point in time count, that does show that our numbers are going down, however, point in time counts in general, are largely considered an under count of homelessness, so with that said, we do believe that there are more people experiencing homelessness today.”
Point-in-time counts can be used largely to help give a temperature check on how the city of Baltimore is doing from year to year, to help show trends, but all in all there is not an accurate count. To an outsider looking in, this sounds controversial.
Breidenstine is focusing on the significant progress that has been made since 2008 and plans to take it step by step from there.
“The most important thing is that from now and going forward we have a community that is committed to the vision that will make homelessness rare and brief and that means that we’ve got the right stake holders around the table that will work to address these issues,” Breidenstine said. “Whether it takes another five, 10 or 100 years.”
Michael isn’t like most homeless individuals that you would necessarily find on the streets of Baltimore. Although Michael chooses this specific lifestyle, he has much more than other homeless individuals in Baltimore, faith.
“I’ve heard of the 10-year plan, I think that if it was working I wouldn’t be living in my car,” Michael said. “I don’t think I will be living out of my car forever, but I haven’t found many other solutions to my problems.”
Michael settles into his home for the night. He climbs into his back seat, wraps himself carefully in his sheet for warmth and quickly falls asleep. Anxiously anticipating the sun to beam through the window of his home once again which will wake him for another monotonous day.
There are hundreds of different possibilities reflecting individuals reasoning for being homeless. Abuse substance, unemployment and insufficient health care are all valid examples, but Michael’s story is different.
“It’s hard to say why people are homeless,” he said. “Some people are forced to be homeless while others simply choose to live this way.”